Provincial male and female AAA under-18 hockey leagues postpone seasons

Prince Albert Mintos goaltender Kris Johnson searches for a loose puck during second period action at the Art Hauser Centre on Nov. 15,2020. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

This week’s joint announcement that the Saskatchewan Male and Female AAA Under-18 Hockey Leagues were postponing their league schedules wasn’t a major surprise to Prince Albert Mintos team manager Kalen Wright.

“We had an idea that this might be coming, especially after the recent news from (Saskatchewan Hockey Association general manager) Kelly (McClintock) saying that games probably wouldn’t be starting until the end of the March,” Wright said on Thursday afternoon.

“We’re in the process now of speaking with parents and gathering information on the best way to move forward. There’s a lot to take into consideration, such as if the players elect to move back home for schooling or they finish things here, what the players have for ice availability if they elect to go home, plus the financial side of things on our end as it costs quite a bit to rent ice (at the Art Hauser Centre) with no revenue coming in.

“Everyone that we’ve talked to has been good about it so far and we expect to finalize our February plans here within the next week.”

Both circuits have been on hiatus since Nov. 26, 2020, which is when all team and group sports in the province were put on hold after the Government of Saskatchewan put in new measures to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were coming to a point as a league where we had to decide how to best take care of players, billets and parents, as this whole year has been up and down for everyone,” Saskatchewan Male Under-18 AAA Hockey League president Lloyd Friesen said. “The governors discussed the different scenarios and options, which we then presented to the teams so that they could make the decisions that are best for their situations.

“It’s been frustrating for everybody, whether they are veterans in the league or rookies (such as the first-year franchises in Estevan and Warman), but this is a situation that no one has experience in. This is no one’s fault and we’re all dealing with an unprecedented situation.  Deep down…we all want to continue and there’s always that hope that we can get back to playing. I do feel sorry though for the players and students that are in their last year as it would be nice to finish out their tenure on a positive note.”

Although they haven’t played any games in two months, the Mintos have been able to practice with a limited amount of players on the ice and have also done off-ice training sessions.

“We’ve been trying to keep our players as busy as we can,” Wright said. “I don’t suspect anyone is nearly in game shape, especially since we haven’t played since November, but we’re doing what we can to keep our players active.”

If Under-18 AAA games do occur at some point this year, one of the scenarios that both leagues will have to deal with is venue availability, especially if the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League resume play.

“Back in the fall, I think everyone was pretty optimistic that when we put our schedule together, we wouldn’t have a problem with securing ice in April, but that’s starting to be a bit of a question mark,” Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League president Blaine Stork said. “When you put that factor into the other factors that our league and the Male Under-18 AAA League were dealing with, we came to the realization that postponing the league schedule was what we were going to have to do.

“With all that said, we’re really proud of our players and our teams with how they’ve worked to follow the protocols that were put in place by Sask Hockey and the (Saskatchewan) Health Authority to make a season even possible. All those people need to be applauded for their hard work to get this year off the ground.”